iHerb Code: The Man, the Myth, the Mystery

4 November 2022
By Elena Cebulash, Sophia Heidebrecht, and Andriana Taratsas

We at the Miscellany love comments. In fact, we might go so far as to say we need them. We snatch them up whenever they are offered like mangy pigeons descending upon a dropped french fry, for truly they are our sustaining force. Our bread and butter. Our water of life. Our greasy french fry. We crave any sign that our readers care about what we have to say, no matter how impish. Even if they disagree. Perhaps, especially if they disagree. We would like to think of our comments section as a community of free discourse and independent thinkers. Of course, it would probably help if people actually commented more than once in a while. (We’re not bitter. Well, maybe a little. Ahem.) 

So, when someone DOES comment, of course we read it right away. Perhaps, if it’s exceptionally interesting, we will even share it in our exclusive forum for editorial discussions (aka the “Miscellaneous” group chat, invitation only). But most comments don’t spark nearly the same amount of conversation, intrigue, or anxiety as this one from October the 15th, posted at the bottom of our Tuscaloosa movie review. 

O, Lone Commenter (who is not one of our friends). Where did you come from? Where did you go?

Where did you come from, iHerb Code?

(That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a slant rhyme.)

OG Spam

Consumed by a fit of manic energy, we stared at this comment for who knows how long before we began to write this article. (It had, in fact, been 36 minutes.) At first, we experienced a sense of alarm. Could this be director Phil Harder, summoned by our somewhat critical review? Does he lurk around the internet for mentions of his film Tuscaloosa (2019), attempting to correct any “opinions” which he finds to be “mistaken”? (We weren’t laughing at it, we were laughing with it!) Does he know about Twitter? I hope he’s never tried to correct opinions over there; they don’t take too kindly to “PM” requests in those parts.

Perhaps it was Devon Bostick, Mr. Diary of a Wimpy Kid himself, owner of the aforementioned “sorry seed.” Or even better, maybe it was Natalia Dyer, doing some *strange things* on the internet. Yet, we never critiqued their acting — much the opposite, in fact. We admired them. How could we be mistaken in their eyes?

The target of our obsessive investigation thus shifted to a more likely suspect: Second Laird’s very own faculty. But who could it be? Which of our illustrious professors could possibly choose the alias “iHerb Code”? Was it an anagram of some sort? A reference to the online vitamin and supplement retailer (see: Google)? Was it merely a smash of the keyboard, fueled by a rather perplexing righteous anger in defense of a mediocre movie? What possible meaning was the mind behind iHerb trying to convey?

edz meme crazy
Artist’s rendition of the Second Laird Miscellany editors c. October 18th, 2022

Could iHerb have been someone’s nom de plume? Our minds drifted off campus to the rest of Northfield. Perhaps we were mistaken, and there was in fact some poor soul whose parents had written iHerb on their birth certificate. Perhaps our English bias was blinding us, and Herb Codé is in fact a perfectly normal French name. Perhaps the “i” merely signifies the internet proficiency required to navigate the technically nonexistent WordPress “PM.” 

We began to worry.

What if iHerb was looking over our shoulders, even as we wrote this very article? What if iHerb was two steps ahead, and all our confused investigation was only leading us further into this masterly laid trap? What sort of diabolical mind could read meaning into the nonsensical string of characters that was “iHerb Code”?

watcher meme
Miscellany edz after reading the comment in question.

Perhaps we were chasing the wrong wild goose. Perhaps PM referred to the time of day, and was not a misplaced technological abbreviation at all. In which case, in the words of one edz’s most recent prof feedback, maybe it was all a “misreading.” But sufficient time had passed to convince us that PM did not in fact refer to the time of day. Or iHerb would have responded. Right? (Oh, why? Why hadn’t they called? Was it me? Was it something iSaid?)

But before we could post yet another reply to the mysterious iHerb (ah, the dreaded double text!), we returned to the comment in question one more time.

And what should we see but an UPDATE!

From Herb! Herb, you came back! At least, we think it’s you. You changed your name. Code Herb? Were you self conscious by our some random person on the internet’s play on your name? We hope you feel like you can be yourself in our comments section, Herb.

What is Herb playing at???

It took us a moment to parse what exactly Herb was trying to say. Was this a mere grammatical error? Or was there something deeper going on? A cipher of sorts? Perhaps a hidden message? We as English majors are taught to read between the lines. What was going on between the lines of Herb’s reply?

What question had we unwittingly helped Herb with? What were they facing? Why were they talking like Yoda? What is “it” and what could possibly be in “it”? We were left (unlike Herb, apparently) with more questions than answers.

One of those questions became harder and harder to ignore. What if — and we were forced to reckon with the possibility, to “face it,” as Herb might say — what if Herb was not a reader at all? At least, not one of flesh and blood? Could it be that we were hanging on the every word of a (*gasp*) spam bot? Herb’s responses, seemingly cued at random, would have gotten a C+/B- on the Turing Test at best. Was there somebody typing on the other end, or was it all just a string of Code to Herb?

English majors though we may be, we are not so technologically ignorant that we couldn’t look up Herb’s IP address.  And what a result we found. We at the Miscellany are proud to announce that we, in fact, have an international audience.

Herb has been posting from Moscow.

The Miscellany edz after tracing Herb’s IP address.

But, you might say, isn’t this merely a bot? A potentially hazardous spam bot who could be hiding viruses right around the corner? Bring it on, says one of the edz who mistakenly clicked on one of the spam links not too long ago. (Wow, way to call a girl out.) No, say the others, who know better than to click on mysterious websites. (Like you all are so perfect!) But perhaps the line between bot and human is not so clear as it might seem. We refuse to be bound to petty notions of “humanity” and “consciousness.” But, like, also, we can’t afford to alienate our readership.

You get it.

So we responded, if a bit cheekily, assuming that this was a harmless source of amusement for our readers. But also us. (Mostly us.)

Only to discover!

MORE SPAM. Duh duh DUH. We got an oddly apologetic message from enigmatic newcomer “Virtual Local Numbers.” (Rest assured, dear commenter: We excuse for that you interfere.)

Virtual Local Numbers Comment

We got a horny ad message from the skeevy RonaldSix, complete with misspelled—yet undoubtedly “eroric”—links. (Sure, resource sharing is common and even encouraged amongst peers in academia. But I think we’re good here, Ron. Can we call you Ron?) We even got utter gibberish that was so clearly not written by a human that the WEBSITE marked it as spam.

Our commenters were Made in China and Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg. We are truly becoming a globalized medium. And we encourage that. But let’s keep it all human(e), shall we? We must also acknowledge the real problem here. We wouldn’t be forced into engaging with bots if only we had other comments. Please, readers, few though you may be: disagree with us. Yell at us. Tell us we’re wrong—or absolutely right. Use strange, Yoda-esque parlance if you would like. Write us a poem. ANYTHING. We’re (obviously) desperate.

As always, 

Your Second Laird Edz 🙂



  • 2022-11-05 10:38:04
    George Shuffelton

    Close reading skills become digital forensics skills! English majors FTW!

  • 2022-11-10 12:28:26
    Adriana Estill

    I...did not know how the question y'all had for me about spam on the blog would spiral into a noirish detective tale filled with incredible suspense and intrigue, segue into a meditation on what makes each of us human, only to finish on a slam poetry note demanding audience participation! Bravas!!

  • 2022-12-04 01:58:04


Add a comment